Greenberg Review
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Ben Stiller is a pretty funny guy—or at least he has been, at various points in his career. He’s a good comedic director, too (Tropic Thunder, anyone?). And now that he’s taken a dramatic turn in director Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, I can only hope that he’ll return to comedy—because this bland and pointless attempt at drama makes even his not-so-funny comedic roles seem Oscar-worthy.

In Greenberg, Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, a scruffy, socially awkward carpenter from New York who’s just been released from the mental institution where he was treated for a nervous breakdown. As a part of his quest to “do nothing for a while,” Roger heads back home to Los Angeles to housesit for his much more successful brother while he and his family are vacationing in Vietnam.

Once he’s back in LA, Roger is forced to face the past that he’s been avoiding for the last 15 years. His ex-girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), now has kids of her own. And some of his old band mates are still bitter about the record deal that he rejected. But while his old friend, Ivan (Rhys Ifans), is recently separated and happy to see him, Roger prefers to spend time with his brother’s young assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), who’s the same age that he was when his life started falling apart—and the two soon begin an awkward and turbulent relationship.

Like Baumbach’s previous films (most recently, Margot at the Wedding), Greenberg is simple and stripped down. It’s quiet and awkward, and it’s populated with damaged (and often even destructive) characters that make it feel real. Still, the fact that Greenberg is real doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s interesting—or even worthwhile. Instead, it’s a dull and drab study of an almost entirely unlikeable character.

Roger Greenberg is cranky and self-obsessed. He spends his days doing little more than writing [mildly amusing] letters to complain about everything from horn-honking to coffee chains. And every time he decides to get close to someone—whether it’s Ivan or Florence—he ends up hurting them in some way. Though he occasionally considers trying to be a better person, it simply takes too much work, so he soon gives up and crawls back into his little shell. With all the abuse that the other characters consistently endure, you can’t help but wonder why they keep giving him another chance. Only his ex is smart enough to smile and politely walk away.

Greenberg is an awkward and exhausting film, filled with constantly bickering characters that you just won’t care about. You’ll find yourself hoping for some sort of point—some deep philosophy, some important message, even some kind of breakthrough—but, in the end, you’ll be left empty-handed. So just save yourself the frustration. For a more interesting study in dysfunction, see Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding instead. Or, if you’re really in the mood for a Ben Stiller movie, stick with Tropic Thunder.

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